In Sub-Sahara Africa, agriculture remains the main source of income for 80% of the rural population. In order to feed their families, farmers only have access to very simple methods for cultivating their fields and domestic gardens. Outdated or unsustainable methods of soil management combined with periods of drought, the high cost of pesticides and fertilisers and difficulties in accessing loans are the main reasons for low yields from conventional agriculture and the resultant food shortages. Ecological farming offers small-scale farmers and their families an opportunity to produce sufficient healthy food sustainably in the longer term and without the purchase of expensive artificial fertilisers and pesticides. However, to tackle these challenges at the regional and national level and encourage the uptake of ecological farming, Africa needs enough local, well-educated and skilled professionals.
In this project students from universities in several East African countries complete an intensive course that provides them with a detailed understanding of the opportunities for small-scale ecological farming. A further goal of the project is to establish ecological farming as a topic for discussion at the national level and embed it long term in 15 local universities.
The spread of ecological farming can be encouraged by offering new training opportunities in African universities. However, there are currently few such opportunities in East Africa. An annual training course providing a targeted exchange of knowledge and experience is helping to remedy this shortage. Biovision has been supporting the “International Training Course in Organic Agriculture“(ITCOA) since 2009 and so each year helps 40 East African agricultural students to attend a course in ecological agriculture. The course maintains direct links with farmers and so allows students to become conversant with the theory and practice of ecological farming and also allows them to undertake associated research projects.
Each year, a total of 40 students from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia benefit from the project. Agricultural advisers and local university specialists can also attend the agricultural seminar and benefit directly from the direct exchange of knowledge and experience as well as the newly acquired findings. Students are selected on the basis of strict criteria, including equality – at least 50% of the participants must be women.
- Annual training course for 40 students from Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya that allows them increase their skills and expertise in ecological agriculture.
- Establish and integrate issues relating to ecological and sustainable agriculture into various academic disciplines at 15 East African universities.
- Encourage the development of a network of young specialists in ecological agriculture in East Africa (ITCOA Alumni Programme) and the spread of the research results from the seminar.
The course is designed to raise awareness within the university sector about ecological agriculture and also to increase the dialogue with the private sector and government agencies. The Go‑Organic network is currently investigating the possibility of developing commercial activities that would allow it to be self-financing in the longer term. The inclusion of course material from ITCOA into standard course timetables (as has already happened at the Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi) will ensure the long-term future of the agriculture seminar within universities.